January 29, 2007 By David Raths
The state has created guidelines to follow when a meth lab is found in a house or an apartment to make sure the property owners understand and follow the state's cleanup standards.
In Tennessee, the governor's 2005 Meth-Free Tennessee Act directed the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to keep a registry of meth-contaminated properties. When a Tennessee law enforcement agency quarantines a property, in addition to informing the DEC for listing online, a quarantine notice is added to the chain of title with the Register of Deeds, thus creating a permanent record.
When the property is cleaned, the owner can record that information with the Register of Deeds. Both notifications become part of the property's permanent record to help inform potential buyers or renters.
Tennessee went one step further, creating a registry of individuals convicted of meth offenses. After legislation was passed in spring 2005, Tennessee became the first state with such a registry in September 2005. There are now 541 people on the list, and as of July 2006, the Web site has been accessed half a million times.
State officials say the registry is not meant to be a deterrent.
"It was designed as an informational tool for the people of Tennessee," said Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). "Landlords were renting to people with no idea of who these people were. With the recidivism rate really high among these offenders, there was a public outcry that something be done."
In addition, someone making meth could be transporting or dumping hazardous chemicals, Johnson said.
Offenders can appeal to have their name removed from the list after seven years if they haven't been convicted again in that time.
The TBI Web site also features a tool called the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System, which lets citizens create their own crime reports about meth labs and meth-related offenses by whatever variables they'd like to track, such as drug quantity, type of location, region or time of day.
Using Data to Track Trends
In Michigan, which had 341 meth lab incidents in 2005, the state is attempting to gather more data and trying to do a better job of analyzing it. The Michigan State Methamphetamine Task Force's May 2006 report calls for a stronger data collection and reporting system for tracking meth use and related problems.
A task force subcommittee on prevention argued for establishing a central database to continually collect, assess, monitor and report on meth indicators.
"When we went looking for data, we could only find treatment and meth lab data, but use data is difficult to find," said Kori White-Bissot, a prevention coordinator with Lakeshore Coordinating Council in Grand Haven, Mich., who served as chair of the prevention subcommittee.
The state needs data about use rates among the adult population and it needs to share that data systemwide, she added. Michigan meth lab busts are down 50 percent in the last year, but state officials realize they still have a problem with use. "As you see that lab number go down, you might think the problem is going away, but we know it's not," said White-Bissot. "We need better ways to track usage."
Nancy Becker-Bennett, section manager of the Michigan Methamphetamine Task Force, said the state plans to adopt the recommendations about data gathering. She said that by creating a more comprehensive picture of the meth problem, the state could do a better job of tracking trends, prioritizing spending and allocating its resources regionally.
By establishing baseline data on the extent of the meth problem, including data such as child abuse and neglect due to parents' or guardians' meth use, the state will be taking steps toward increasing public awareness, enhancing treatment options, and creating an early warning system for communities to recognize an emerging meth problem.
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